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Prince Harry, Meghan Markle to ‘step back’ as senior UK royals

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.WPA Pool/Getty

LONDON — Britain’s Prince Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, and his American wife, Meghan Markle, made a surprise announcement on Wednesday evening: that they would ‘‘step back’’ from their roles as senior members of the royal family and work to become ‘‘financially independent,’’ in the United Kingdom and North America.

Such a move abroad, and so far away from the strictures of Buckingham Palace and its many duties, would be bold and remarkable — signaling that two of the younger, most popular royals may be fed up with the anachronistic, cosseted life of endless ribbon-cutting and scripted engagements.

The globally famous couple — friends to Oprah Winfrey, Elton John, George Clooney, and the Obamas — have complained bitterly of being pursued by the British tabloids.

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The couple have filed lawsuits, and given TV interviews, claiming violations of their privacy. Harry has said he is haunted by memories of his own mother, Princess Diana, being hounded to her death by paparazzi in a tunnel in Paris.

In a post on their Instagram account, the couple said they made the decision to distance themselves from palace life, ‘‘after many months of reflection and internal discussions.’’

‘‘We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen,’’ they said.

‘‘We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honor our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth and our patronages,’’ Harry and Meghan said in a statement.

The couple did not say where, exactly, they would spend time now.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is from Los Angeles. She is close to her mother, but estranged from her father, who now lives in retirement in Mexico.

Before the couple got together, Meghan lived and worked in Toronto, where her legal TV drama ‘‘Suits’’ is filmed. A member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, Canada might make an appropriate part-time home.

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On Tuesday, the couple visited Canada House in central London, where they thanked the Canadian High Commissioner for the hospitality they received during a recent stay in Canada.

Harry, Meghan and their baby, Archie, spent Christmas there and were spotted on Vancouver Island. A front-page story in the Sun tabloid on Wednesday claimed that the couple were considering moving to Canada after the successful holiday.

A Wednesday statement from Buckingham Palace prompted speculation that the Queen may not have been fully informed of the decision before the announcement. The statement read: ‘‘Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.’’

Dickie Arbiter, the queen’s former press secretary, said that it was unclear how the next stages would work.

‘‘It doesn’t put them out of control of the royal machine, but it does put them slightly on the outside,’’ he said.

He added that ‘‘nobody knows’’ how they will, in practice, continue to support the queen and work with charities.

‘‘Maybe they come back and do things for the charities for a three- [or] four-month’’ window, he said.

Like many on social media, Arbiter speculated the duo would move to Canada, a Commonwealth country where Harry’s grandmother is head of state. ‘‘They just spent six weeks there. Meghan used to live in Canada. I'd be surprised if it wasn’t Canada,’’ he said.

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There is no precedent for senior royals stepping back in this way, said Arbiter. Prince Andrew, a son of the queen, was recently forced to step back from royal duties amid controversy over his past friendship with American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Edward VIII famously abdicated the throne so that he could marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée.

‘‘I'm disappointed they have taken this decision,’’ Arbiter said. ‘‘They were doing good work, Harry was doing exceptional work and this takes them out of the mainstream.’’

Meghan told ITV in a documentary in October that ‘‘not many people have asked if I'm OK. But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.’’ When asked if it would be fair to say things had been a struggle, Meghan replied, yes.

She said that when she first met Prince Harry, ‘‘my British friends said to me, I’m sure he’s great but you shouldn’t do it, because the British tabloids will destroy your life. And I very naively — I’m American, we don’t have that there . . . I didn’t get it.’’

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, with their baby son, Archie.
Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, with their baby son, Archie. HENK KRUGER/AFP/Getty Images